FORT BRAGG, CA
Fort Bragg, officially the City of Fort Bragg, is a city along the Pacific Coast of California along Shoreline Highway in Mendocino County. It is west of Willits, at an elevation of . Its population was 6,983 at the 2020 census.
Fort Bragg is a tourist destination because of its picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean. Among its notable points of interest are Glass Beach and the California Western Railroad (popularly known as the "Skunk Train").
A California Historical Landmark, Fort Bragg was founded in 1857 prior to the American Civil War as a military garrison rather than a fortification. It was named after army officer Braxton Bragg, who at the time had served the U.S. in the Mexican–American War (and would later serve in the Confederate Army during the Civil War). The city was later incorporated in 1889.
The area now known as Fort Bragg was home to Native Americans since before Western expansion, most of whom belong to the Pomo tribe. They historically were hunter gatherers who lived along the northern coast of California.
In 1855, an exploration party from the Bureau of Indian Affairs visited the area looking for a site on which to establish a reservation; in the spring of 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation was established at Noyo. It was in size, and its boundary extended north from what is now Simpson Lane to Abalobadiah Creek and east from the Pacific Ocean to Bald Hill.
In the summer of 1857, 1st Lt. Horatio G. Gibson, then serving at the Presidio of San Francisco, established a military post on the reservation, approximately north of the Noyo River, and named it for his former commanding officer Capt. Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy.
Gibson and Company M, 3rd Artillery, left Fort Bragg in January 1859 to be replaced by Company D, 6th Infantry, which stayed for two years and continued to build up the post.
In June 1862, Company D, 2nd California Infantry, were ordered to garrison the post and remained until 1864. In October of that year, the Fort Bragg garrison was loaded aboard the steamer Panama and completed the evacuation and abandonment of Mendocino County's first military post.
The Mendocino Indian Reservation was discontinued in March 1866, and the land was opened for settlement three years later.
The last remaining building of the Fort Bragg military post is located at 430 North Franklin Street. It may have been the Quartermaster's storehouse and commissary or surgeon's quarters or hospital.
The approximate boundaries of the fort extend from the south side of Laurel, east from the railroad depot to the carriage road behind Franklin, down the lane to a point south of Redwood Avenue, west on Redwood to just beyond the Georgia-Pacific Corporation company offices, then north to connect with the Laurel Street border at the railroad station.
By 1867, the reservation and military outpost at Fort Bragg were abandoned. By 1869, small lumber mills were being built at the mouth of every creek. Ranches were settled. By 1873, Fort Bragg had an established lumber port at Noyo.
In 1869, after the fort was abandoned, and the land surveyed by the U.S. Geological Survey, the land of the reservation was returned to the public and offered for sale at $1.25 per acre to settlers. In 1885, C.R. Johnson who, with partners Calvin Stewart and James Hunter, had been operating a sawmill in Mill Creek on the Ten Mile River, moved their mill machinery to Fort Bragg to take advantage of the harbor for shipping.
The company incorporated in 1885 as the Fort Bragg Redwood Company. In 1891, after merging with the Noyo River Lumber Company, it was renamed the Union Lumber Company.
The Fort Bragg Railroad was founded to haul logs to the mill. The first rails were run up Pudding Creek and, in 1887, reached Glen Blair. A San Francisco streetcar was purchased to carry loggers and their families on Sunday excursions to the woods.
Fort Bragg was incorporated in 1889 with C. R. Johnson as its first mayor, and Calvin Stewart drafting its plat maps.
Built in Fort Bragg for Horace Weller in 1886, the Weller House is the oldest existing house in the city. Since 1999, this house, converted into a hotel, has welcomed tourists from around the world.
The Union Lumber Company was incorporated in 1891 by absorbing some of the smaller lumber companies in the area. Some of the new company lands were in the Noyo River watershed east of Fort Bragg making removal of logs difficult by rail, unless a tunnel was built. Johnson hired experienced Chinese tunnel builders from San Francisco. After completion of the tunnel, most of the Chinese settled in Fort Bragg and Mendocino. A six-walled Chinese town was built at Redwood and McPherson. Older residents say that eventually most of the Chinese children moved elsewhere.
In 1901, the Union Lumber Company incorporated the National Steamship Company to carry lumber, passengers and supplies. As the only link to manufactured creature comforts, staples like sugar and coffee were delivered by steamship. In 1905, the California Western Railroad and Navigation Company was established and plans were pushed to get the rail line all the way to Willits, where train connections to the Northwestern Pacific would link to San Francisco.
The 1906 earthquake resulted in a fire that threatened the saw mill and the city. Within Fort Bragg itself, all brick buildings were damaged. Only two were not destroyed completely. Many frame houses were knocked off their piers. The fire downtown burned the entire block bordered by Franklin, Redwood and McPherson Streets, plus the west side of Franklin. The west Franklin block burned down to approximately one half a block beyond the intersection of Redwood and Franklin.
After the earthquake, most downtown reconstruction was completed within 12 months. Coincidentally, the earthquake brought real prosperity to Fort Bragg as the mills furnished lumber to rebuild San Francisco, and the lumber ships returning from San Francisco were ballasted with bricks used for rebuilding Fort Bragg. With the new prosperity, the rail line to Willits was completed and in 1912 the first tourists came to Fort Bragg. By 1916 Fort Bragg had become a popular place to visit—and to settle.
Commercial fishing has also played an important role in the economic base of the community. Once a major commercial fishing port, Fort Bragg was well known for producing quality fish products that were distributed to major metropolitan markets.
In 1916, the Union Lumber Company built a railroad from the South Fork of Ten Mile River to Fort Bragg, where its operations were.
By 1929, what lumber could not be sent by rail to the company mill at Fort Bragg was handled by the mill at Pudding Creek owned by the Glen Blair Redwood Company.
The Union Lumber Company established its own post office on Churchman Creek to service its logging camps there in 1931, but it operated only until 1932.
The railroad was removed in 1945 as rail transport was replaced by haulage by truck; nowadays it is a recreational corridor in MacKerricher State Park.
In 1969, the Union Lumber Company was purchased by Boise Cascade and John Quincy and it became Georgia Pacific Lumber Company in 1973. The mill was shut down in 2002 after being identified as a nonperforming asset. The piece of property within the city limits takes up almost the entire coastline of Fort Bragg, including Fort Bragg Landing.
, the mill site was sold and is undergoing redevelopment, including removal of toxic waste.
Calls to rename the city
In 2015, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus petitioned Fort Bragg to change its name due to Braxton Bragg's links to the Confederacy. The mayor of Fort Bragg at that time, Lindy Peters, stated that there was not really much interest among the residents, and cited the costs that every company and institution in the area would have to pay to change all the addresses.
There were further calls to change the name in June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd. On June 22, the Fort Bragg City Council considered whether to put a proposition on the November ballot asking its residents if they would like a name change, but decided instead to form an ad hoc committee to explore options for the city's name. Among the alternative options that were explored was to simply rededicate the city to a different notable person named Bragg. However by late January 2022, the commission announced that it could not come to a consensus on a name change.
Edward S. Bragg for example, was an American politician, lawyer, soldier, and diplomat. He was an accomplished Union Army General in the American Civil War and served four terms in the United States House of Representatives representing Wisconsin. Later, he was United States Minister to Mexico during the presidency of Grover Cleveland and consul-general to the Republic of Cuba and British Hong Kong under President Theodore Roosevelt.
Fort Bragg is located at with an average elevation of above sea level.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , of which of it is land and of it (comprising 1.44%) is water.
Due to Fort Bragg's location on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, the city has very mild weather throughout the year compared to most inland places. Most of the rainfall occurs from November to April with some occasional drizzle or light showers during the summer. Fog and low overcast are common, especially during the night and early morning hours. The climate experienced in Fort Bragg is classified as warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen: Csb). Although formally known as dry-summer subtropical, Fort Bragg has very cool summer temperatures for a subtropical climate type. Its Mediterranean classification is due to the dry summers with very little rainfall.
January, the coldest month, has an average maximum temperature of and an average minimum temperature of ; September, the warmest month, has an average maximum temperature of and an average minimum temperature of . Temperatures rarely reach , doing so only on an average of only 0.1 afternoon annually. Freezing temperatures occur on an average of 11.1 days annually. The record maximum temperature was on October 5, 1985 (exceeded by on October 23, 1965, at the airport, where records were kept from 1948 to 1972). The record minimum temperature was on December 21, 1990, during one of the rare instances of snowfall, and in 2016 there was an ice storm.
Average annual precipitation is . The wettest "rain year" on record was from July 1997 to June 1998 with at least (some days missing) and the driest from July 1976 to June 1977 with . The maximum precipitation in one month was in December 2002. The maximum 24-hour rainfall was on December 28, 2002.
Snow is virtually unknown; the only recorded snowfall was in January 1907.
The extreme maritime effect of the Pacific Ocean is demonstrated by the fact that Fort Bragg has uniquely cool summers for cities on the 39th parallel north, both domestically and internationally. To illustrate the extremes of Fort Bragg, coastal climates with warmer summers than the city are found as far north as on the 66th latitude on the Bothnia Bay in between Sweden and Finland, a net latitudal anomaly of 27 degrees. That is nearly one-third of the distance between the poles and the equator. In places some miles inland, consistently hotter summer temperatures are found, a phenomenon typical of the Californian coastline.
As of the census of 2010, there were 7,273 people, 2,812 households, and 1,644 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,644.7 people per square mile (1,641.8/km2). There were 3,051 housing units at an average density of 1,119.1 per square mile (431.5/km2). The ethnic makeup of the city was 74.8% Caucasian, 16.0% Mestizo, 4.6% multiethnic 2.2% Native American, 1.5% Asian American, 0.7% African American and 0.2% Pacific Islands American. 31.8% of the population identified as Hispanic or Latino of any ethnicity.
There were 2,840 households, out of which 30.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.4% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.1% were non-families. 35.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 24.6% under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 22.2% from 45 to 64, and 13.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 100.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,539, and the median income for a family was $36,000. Males had a median income of $25,833 versus $23,287 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,832. About 11.9% of families and 20.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.5% of those under age 18 and 10.6% of those age 65 or over.
Parks and recreation
A trail that extends over a mile along the coast from the Noyo River Headlands north along the bluff over the Pacific Ocean reaches the former Georgia-Pacific mill site. It is accessible from Highway 1 (Main Street) at Cypress Street. The trail includes information signage about the area's pre-European residents, the Pomo Native Americans. The trail leads to a visitor center maintained by the Noyo Center for Marine Science. Offshore along the trail are rocks where harbor seals haul out and other sealife may be viewed.
Points of interest
Built in 1892, the Guest House Museum served as lodging for the owners of Union Lumber Company, VIP visitors, and potential buyers of ULCO products. It has become the headquarters of the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society, where visitors learn about the history of the area.
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a garden along the coastal bluffs.
Glass Beach is on the edge of Fort Bragg, along the ocean. In the early 20th century, Fort Bragg residents threw their household garbage over cliffs owned by the Union Lumber Company onto what is now Glass Beach, discarding glass, appliances, and even vehicles. Locals referred to it as "The Dumps". Fires were lit to reduce the size of the trash pile. In 1967, city leaders closed the area and various cleanup programs were brought on through the years to fix the damage. Over several decades the pounding waves wore down the discarded glass into the small, smooth pieces called sea glass that coat the beach. The area along the beach at the end of Elm Street is now visited by tourists.
Other points of interest
Fort Bragg is the western terminus of the California Western Railroad (otherwise known locally as the "Skunk Train"). Steam passenger service was started in 1904, and then extended in 1911 through the Coast Redwood forests to the city of Willits, inland. Started in 1885 as a rail route for moving large logs to the mills, the Skunk Train now offers scenic tours through the redwoods. In 1925 self-powered, yellow "Skunk" rail cars were inaugurated. The little trains were quickly nicknamed for their original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em." In 1965 the line reintroduced summer steam passenger service between Fort Bragg and Willits with Baldwin-built steam locomotives Nos. 45 and 46, calling the colorful train "The Super Skunk". That train was discontinued in 2001 owing to the embargo of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, then revived in September 2006 as a special event train. No.45 continues to power excursion trains from Fort Bragg as far as Northspur, the CWR's midpoint, on selected weekends summer to early autumn.
State Route 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) passes through Fort Bragg, concurrent with and signed as Main Street within the city limits. It travels on two bridges while doing so, the Noyo River Bridge and the Pudding Creek Bridge. State Route 20's western terminus is in Fort Bragg at its junction with Route 1, travelling east it runs parallel and several miles south of the Skunk Train's route to Willits and beyond to Nevada City before terminating at a junction with Interstate 80.
The city also has a small private airport with an paved runway.
State and federal representation
In the state legislature, Fort Bragg is in , and .
Federally, Fort Bragg is in .
Children in Fort Bragg are served by the Fort Bragg Unified School District, typically attending Fort Bragg High School, Fort Bragg Middle School, Dana Gray Elementary and Redwood Elementary during their time in the public school system, though several alternative schools are available as well. In 2006, Three Rivers Learning Center, a charter school under the jurisdiction of Mattole Valley Charter School opened.
In popular culture
Several major movies have been filmed in and around Fort Bragg, including:
As a youth, Ken Sasaki noted that his home, Ōtsuchi, Japan, is located on the same latitude as Fort Bragg and in 2001 he contacted then-Mayor Lindy Peters and visited with a delegation to open discussions on a sister city agreement. Fort Bragg students visited Otsuchi in 2002 and the Sister City Proclamation was solidified in 2005 by Mayor Dave Turner. Other student exchanges were held in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 and the next exchange was planned for July 2011. Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami devastation of Otsuchi, Mayor Turner ordered that city flags be flown at half staff until the end of March to honor the thousands of lives lost.
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